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Maidu woven coiled bowl.jpg
A Maidu coiled basket, late 19th century.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
United States of America (CA)
English, Maidu
Animistic (incl. syncretistic forms), other

The Maidu are an indigenous people of northern California. They reside in the central Sierra Nevada, in the drainage area of the Feather and American Rivers. Also they reside in Humbug Valley. In Maiduan languages, Maidu means "man."

Local divisions[edit]

Pre-contact extent of Maidu settlement in California

There are three subcategories of Maidu:


Original title: Maidu Headmen with Treaty Commissioners. Treaty Commissioner O. M. Wozencraft is seated center front. Image was captured on or around August 1, 1851 at Bidwell's Ranch at Chico Creek.

Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Population of Native California. Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the 1770 population of the Maidu (including the Konkow and Nisenan) as 9,000.[3] Sherburne F. Cook raised this figure slightly, to 9,500.[4]

Kroeber reported the population of the Maidu in 1910 as 1,100. The 1930 census counted only 93. As of 1995, the Maidu population had recovered to an estimated 3,500.


The Maidu were hunters and gatherers.

The Maidu were exemplary basket weavers, weaving highly detailed and useful baskets in sizes ranging from thimble-sized to huge ones ten or more feet in diameter. The stitches on some of these baskets are so fine that you need a magnifying glass to see them. In addition to closely woven, watertight baskets for cooking, they made large storage baskets, bowls, shallow trays, traps, cradles, hats and seed beaters. To make these baskets they used dozens of different kinds of wild plant stems, barks, roots and leaves. Some of the more common were fern roots, red bark of the redbud, white willow twigs and tule roots, hazel twigs, yucca leaves, brown marsh grass roots and sedge roots. By combining these different kinds of plants, they were able to make geometric designs on their baskets in red, black, white, brown or tan.


A mortar ground into the solid rock near a stream.

Like many other California tribes, the Maidu were hunters and gatherers and did not farm. They practiced grooming of their gathering grounds, with fire as a primary tool for this purpose, and tended local groves of oak trees to maximize production of acorns, which was their principal dietary staple. The abundance of acorns made it possible for the Maidu to store large quantities for harder times, and they used their basket-making skills to construct above-ground acorn granaries.

Besides acorns, which provided dietary starch and fat, the Maidu lived in an environment rich in plant and animal life, much of it edible, and they supplemented their acorn diet with edible roots (for which they were nicknamed "Digger Indians" by European immigrants), fish from the many streams and rivers, and other plant and animal species. The seeds from the many flowering plants as well as the corms from many wild flowers provided much of the sustenance to the People of the area. Wildlife of every sort was also utilized within a spiritual reference. Deer, elk, antelope as well as all the multitude of smaller game were utilized on a regular basis. Fish were a prime source of protein starting with the multi run salmon then relying on the local indigenous fishes that supplied food the year round.


Maidu housing, especially higher in the hills and the mountains, was largely semi-underground. These houses were sizable, circular structures twelve to 18 feet in diameter, whose floors were as much as three feet below ground level. Once the floor of the house was dug, a pole framework was built, then a covering of pine bark slabs upon which a heavy layer of earth was placed along the base of the structure. With a central fire in the house at ground level, a stone lined pit and bedrock mortar to process foods, meals were always ready to feed the family. For summer dwelling, a different structure was built from cut branches tied together and fastened to sapling posts, then covered with brush and dirt. The summer shelters were built with the principal opening facing east to catch the rising sun, and to escape the heat of the afternoon.

Social organization[edit]

They lived in small villages or tribelets with no centralized political organization. Leaders were typically selected from the pool of men who headed the local Kuksu cult, but generally did not exercise day-to-day authority, being primarily responsible for settling internal disputes, and negotiating over matters arising between villages.


The primary religious tradition of the Maidu revolved around the Kuksu cult, which was a central California religious cult system based on a male secret society and characterized by the Kuksu or "big head" dances. Besides the Maidu, this cult system was also followed by the Pomo and the Patwin among the Wintun.


The Maidu spoke a language held by some authorities to be of the Penutian linguistic stock. While all Maidu spoke a form of this language, the grammar, syntax and vocabulary differed sufficiently that Maidu separated by large distances or by geographic features that discouraged travel might actually speak nearly mutually unintelligible dialects of the tongue.

There were four principal divisions of the language: Northeastern Maidu, Yamonee Maidu (known simply as Maidu); Southern Maidu or Nisenan; Northwestern Maidu or Konkow; and Valley Maidu or Chico.

Rock art[edit]

The Maidu inhabited areas in northeastern Sierra Nevada. This area and the sites they occupied contain many examples of rock art and petroglyphs. There is some confusion on whether this rock art and other site remains are from previous populations of peoples or from the Maidu people themselves. Regardless, the Maidu people incorporated these works into their cultural system, due to their beliefs that artifacts are real, living energies that are an integral part of their world.

Federally Maidu recognized tribes[edit]

Non-federally recognized tribes[edit]

  • Honey Lake Maidu Tribe
  • KonKow Valley Band of Maidu Indians[5]
  • Nevada City Rancheria
  • Strawberry Valley Band of Pakan'yani Maidu (aka Strawberry Valley Rancheria)[6]
  • Tsi Akim Maidu Tribe of Taylorsville Rancheria
  • United Maidu Nation
  • Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe of the Colfax Rancheria
  • Ninsenan

Contemporary artists[edit]

  • Dalbert Castro – Nisenan
  • Frank Day – Konkow
  • Harry Fonseca – Nisenan
  • Judith Lowry – Mountain Maidu
  • Frank Tuttle[7] – Koncow Maidu
  • Janice Gould – Konkow Maidu
  • Linda Lorraine Noel- konkow Maidu
  • Wallace Clark - Koyom'kawi yepom (traditional arts)

Ninsenan Indian tribe

Traditional narratives[edit]

Stories of the Trickster Coyote are particularly prominent in Maidu traditional narratives.[8]


  1. ^ "California Indians and their Reservations." SDSU Library and Information Access. (retrieved 2 Sept 2010)
  2. ^ Robbins, John (2000-12-14). "ACTION: Native American human remains and associated funerary objects:". thefederalregister.com. Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  3. ^ Kroeber (1925:883)
  4. ^ Cook (1976:179)
  5. ^ Konkow Valley Band of Maidu
  6. ^ Strawberry Valley Rancheria
  7. ^ Frank Tuttle (Konkow Maidu, Yuki, Wailaki)
  8. ^ "Maidu Indian Legends." Native Languages of the Americas. Retrieved 30 Dec 2011.


  • Cook, Sherburne F. 1976. The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • Heizer, Robert F. 1966. Languages, Territories, and Names of California Indian Tribes. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Pritzker, Barry. 2000. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford University Press, New York.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maidu — Please support Wikipedia.
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89 news items

Placer County Online
Thu, 10 Apr 2014 10:56:01 -0700

Womandancers The Maidu Yomen spring event is one of many traditional acknowledgements and celebrations of the natural cycles of the earth by the local Native Peoples. If you knew what to look for, each season brought a new opportunity for bounty from ...
Fri, 18 Apr 2014 17:45:00 -0700

Also Monday, Tuesday, Friday 12:30 p.m. Third Sunday. Colman Museum & Centerville: 1894 One-room schoolhouse: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Permanent Maidu, Chinese, mining history displays; others change. 13548 Centerville Road. Weekends; by appointment for ...
Sacramento Bee
Mon, 14 Apr 2014 20:39:35 -0700

Rocklin, Roseville and Woodcreek competed in the 16-team Stephanie LeDoux Tournament at Maidu Regional Park in Roseville last weekend. Woodcreek beat No. 12 Del Campo 6-1 and No. 8 Casa Roble 7-6 before losing in the final to Vacaville 5-0.
Indian Country Today Media Network
Tue, 15 Apr 2014 05:05:46 -0700

(People of the Valley: The Concow Maidu, Don M. Chase, 1973, p. 31). Additional evidence of this genocidal historical context is found in Brendan Lindsay's Murder State: California's Native American Genocide, 1846-1873. “Not much has changed in their ...
The Union of Grass Valley
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 16:32:24 -0700

Americans for Safe Access - Nevada County is holding a Press Conference on Tuesday, April 22, 12:00 noon at the Eric Rood Center, 950 Maidu Avenue, Nevada City. The culmination of two years work by the medical marijuana activist group will come to a ...
Colorado Springs Gazette
Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:22:30 -0700

Gould is a descendent of the Concow Maidu Indians of California's Feather River. Her works and those of her partner Marie-Elise Wheatwind have been set to music by the Portland Gay Men's Chorus. The new poet laureate received a bachelor's in ...
Mon, 14 Apr 2014 00:16:32 -0700

From the Gold Rush to the Donner Party to the Maidu tribe to the Chinese culture, "this is where the action is," Dambeck said. Another core area needing to be better promoted is the outdoors — hunting, fishing, lakes and wildlife refuges like Gray Lodge.
Rocklin and Roseville Today
Wed, 09 Apr 2014 18:18:45 -0700

Maidu, theft: Between March 28 and April 4, someone stole a pool heater control unit from a back yard on Muir Court. Maidu, drug and burglary arrests: Between April 2 and April 8, officers responded several times to check on suspicious activity at a ...

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